Every time I used to drive down Cretin Avenue, just as I got to Selby, and depending on which direction I was heading, I’d point to the left or right and say, “My father grew up at the end of the street. Down there.” Whoever was with me would never look to the right or the left, but would answer, “I know. You always say that.”
Alone one Sunday afternoon, with no one to share this nugget of family history, I made a split-second decision and turned to the right. I drove slowly down the block and parked in front of the house where Dad had lived with his two older sisters and their parents, my Nana and Papa. The house hadn’t changed—it was the same cream color with chocolate brown trim that I remembered from childhood visits. I could see myself running up the front steps as I had so many Sundays, my little sister way ahead of me as usual. I watched as I scurried along the side to the narrow, long back yard where my siblings and I and our five cousins played tag, chasing each other toward the garage and alley—both off-limits and automatic outs. “Tag. You’re it,” I said to no one as I pictured the redwood picnic table where we’d eaten so many lunches together.
I could hear the slam of the back screen door as we scrambled up the stairs to the kitchen and through the dining room, each of us hoping to be first to reach the comfy stuffed chair next to the window in the sunroom. The pulsing of the foot massage machine Papa kept next to the chair, right where Dad had placed it one Christmas, sent a shudder up my back. With Papa’s permission, we kids always took turns massaging our feet.
The window above the front door was where the spare bedroom had been. My older cousin Nancy stayed with Nana and Papa for a while and that had been her room. One night when we visited, Nana said Nancy was upstairs doing homework, and I should go up to say hello. Nana would have been dismayed to see that Nancy wasn’t studying, but was listening to records on her record player and dancing in her stocking feet. “You know who Roy Orbison is, don’t you?” she asked. Oh, sure, I nodded, even though we both knew it was a lie.
A knock on the window of my car brought me out of my reverie. A woman asked if I was looking for someone or needed directions. “Oh no,” I said. “My grandparents owned this house. My dad grew up here.”
She told me that two men had recently bought it. “They’re not home now,” she said. “I saw them leave a bit a go.” She offered to give me their names and said she knew they’d let me go through the house. “You should see what they’ve done to it,” she added, saying how beautiful it was. Did she say red living room? I wondered. I didn’t dare ask. I could already see it. Ruby walls in Nana’s living room. Oh, my. That meant the white lace curtains must be gone, too. Nana wouldn’t like this at all, I thought. I thanked the woman and waved good-bye as I began to pull away from the curb. I could hear Nana cluck her tongue as she wondered what had possessed them to change the color of the neutral off-white walls. They probably ripped up the patterned carpeting she’d been so proud of, too. Oh, my.